AUSTIN, Texas – There is much to be thankful for this season as we make strides in the fight against COVID-19, but now we face another threat. Austin Public Health (APH) epidemiologists are monitoring alarming upper respiratory virus trends, specifically children in the hospital. As friends and family get together for holiday celebrations, it is important to consider those who are at increased risk for poor outcomes should they get sick. Get up to date with flu and COVID-19 vaccines, stay home if you feel sick and take preventive measures to minimize the spread of viruses indoors.
Emergency rooms in the area are inundated with patients suffering from upper respiratory illnesses. The flu positivity rate in Travis County for the most recent reporting period is 26.88%. It’s usually below 10% at this point in the season. The percentage of visits to health care providers due to flu-like illness is 8%–much higher than at this point the last few years (see graph below). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends seasonal flu shots for everyone 6 months and older.
“If you haven’t already, please get your seasonal flu shot,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “If we can limit the prevalence of those viruses in our community, it will help our already short-staffed health care system care for high-risk patients.”
Everyone 6 months and older is eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. More than 71% of those eligible in Travis County have completed their primary COVID-19 vaccination series. Only about 37% have gotten a booster or third dose. The CDC recommends everyone five and older get an updated (bivalent) booster shot. Updated boosters offer broader protection against newer COVID-19 variants including BA.5 which is predominant in Travis County.
Stay home if you’re feeling sick. The likelihood of spreading viruses is heightened during indoor group gatherings. If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, the CDC recommends masking and testing at least five days after exposure. If you have COVID-19, stay home and isolate from others for at least five days.
“Family and friends who haven’t seen each other for years because of the pandemic may be getting together for the holidays. While this is a time to celebrate, we can’t let our guard down,” said APH Director Adrienne Sturrup. “Continue to follow the lessons we’ve learned to keep yourself and loved ones safe and out of the hospital.”
If you’re hosting guests this holiday season, consider ways to improve ventilation. Ensure it’s easy for visitors to wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizers. You may also choose to wear a well-fitting mask to protect yourself and loved ones who may be at high risk of serious illness.
APH has compiled health and safety messaging for the upcoming holiday season. Access the media toolkit and help us share best practices to mitigate the spread of illnesses.
Free COVID-19 tests
Free masks (N-95 respirators)
Use the CDC’s mask-locator tool to find pharmacies near you that provide free masks (N-95 respirators). It does not show current inventories, so check with the location for availability.
About Austin Public Health
Austin Public Health is the health department for the City of Austin and Travis County. Austin Public Health works to prevent disease, promote health and protect the well-being of all by monitoring and preventing infectious diseases and environmental threats and educating about the benefits of preventative behaviors to avoid chronic diseases and improve health outcomes.